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Guilty plea could establish negligence in a wrongful death claim

One primary focus of a plaintiff in a wrongful death claim is to establish negligence on the part of the party or parties believed to have caused the death of their loved one. In many New Jersey accidents involving a fatality, criminal charges are filed against the allegedly responsible party. If the person facing those charges enters a guilty plea or is otherwise convicted in criminal court, proof of the conviction could be used to establish negligence in a civil lawsuit connected to the victim's death.

Last October, a 24-year-old drunk driver slammed into the back of a tractor-trailer. His 25-year-old friend was a passenger in the vehicle and suffered fatal injuries in the crash. The pair had been traveling south on the New Jersey Turnpike at approximately 4 a.m. By about 4:39 a.m., officials at the scene pronounced his friend dead.

The driver was taken into custody and charged in connection with his friend's death. At a recent hearing, he admitted that he was intoxicated that morning. He entered a plea of guilty to charges of driving under the influence and vehicular manslaughter. As part of his plea agreement with prosecutors, he is to be sentenced to prison for seven years. He will not be eligible for parole until he has served at least 85 percent of those seven years.

The family of the victim may offer proof of his criminal court conviction to establish the driver's negligence in civil court. Successfully doing so could result in a finding of liability and allow the court to consider an award of damages for financial losses. Monetary restitution received as the result of such an award could help alleviate the financial burdens associated with the premature death of their loved one.

Source: Woodbridge, NJ Patch, "Man Pleads Guilty in Fatal Woodbridge Drunk Driving Accident", Nicholas Cardoso, Jan. 12, 2015

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